Plant-based cookbook author Sasha Gill talks to Veganuary about her vegan journey
It is safe for me to say that, without a doubt, I was brought up to be a foodie. Food is the lifeblood of my family. It brings us together after we have been apart, it is how we celebrate, how we nourish ourselves, how we communicate. So why, you ask, did I choose to stop eating so many things that once brought me so much happiness?
Food is nostalgic. For me, food reminds me of home, especially when I am very far away from it. But seven years ago, I started thinking a little bit more about what was on my plate. I could no longer justify why an animal had to die for me to be fed. Vegetable dishes were always front and centre at home – an influence that my Indian heritage had on my home cuisine – but we were by no means vegetarian. So I decided, on a plane journey from Singapore (where home is) to the UK, that if uprooting myself from my tropical little island for sixth form in the UK hadn’t been a big enough change, I would add another – I would try out ‘this vegan thing’.
Veganism seven years ago was by no stretch of the imagination what it is now. And while it warms my heart that plants have finally gotten the attention they deserve, I am also very grateful that I made the transition into this lifestyle at a time that was not particularly easy. As much as I love them, there is a limit to the number of times a girl could eat some Linda McCartney sausages. It encouraged me to be a lot more creative in the kitchen.
Going back home was always a little more difficult. It was hard to explain to my Nana why, all of a sudden, I didn’t want to eat the curry devil or sugee cake she spent hours in the kitchen cooking, to celebrate my return. I missed being a part of these family rituals, of chiming in to agree that yes – the sambal belacan was particularly spicy this time around. I missed the flavours of my childhood.
I was determined to fix that. I started experimenting with family recipes and spent hours pouring over my Nana’s handwritten recipe cards – yellow with age and blotted with grease stains. Recreating them, but this time with plants. It was a lot of trial and error, but I got there. It filled me with so much joy to finally have a slice of gloriously golden sugee cake – and even more when everyone else helped themselves to a sliver (and then, more). Food had once again, become something I could be a part of at home. My vegan dishes weren’t seen as something only I could eat, and only something I could enjoy eating. Everyone tucked in – gosh it’s spicy! – and everyone shared.
So maybe you, like I once was, are ‘trying this vegan thing out’. Maybe you aren’t. Perhaps you want to dabble a bit in plant-based eating. Or, you’re somewhat of an expert when it comes to vegan cooking. Everyone is welcome. We are now spoilt for choice when it comes to veganism – the shelves in Marks & Spencer are now adorned with a whole assortment of delicious-looking vegan meals, and you can now ask for vegan ‘cheese’ (Gary?) on your pizza without being thrown looks of bewilderment.
But, try cooking a bit for yourself. I wasn’t the most accomplished cook when I began cooking with plants, and you don’t have to be either. There are so many amazing vegan blogs and cookbooks out there for you to try out for size. Experiment in the kitchen – it’s scary at first but it’s also a lot of fun. Take your favourite foods, like I did, and try to veganise them. You don’t have to feel deprived or like you’re missing out on anything. And if you’re already pretty good at making a vegan mac & cheese – try out other cuisines. The world is full of amazing food, of flavours, for you to incorporate into your cooking.
I am very fortunate in the fact that I can make choices about the food I eat with such freedom. This is a luxury that some people do not have. I am by no means trying to preach about a vegan diet. My hope is that everyone becomes a lot more accepting of plants. Try working a vegan meal into your day – little things like these can add up to a whole lot.
Sasha’s cookbook Jackfruit and Blue Ginger: Asian favourites made vegan (Murdoch Books, £18.99) is available to buy now in bookshops and via online retailers.
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